Parity has a way of turning everything upside down. While we may think after 82 games that we can confidently point to the best teams, in reality we don't know until we get rolling into the second season.
Case in point -- your Eastern Conference semifinalists.
Pittsburgh, yes, but how many of you had Montreal, Philadelphia and Boston going a combined 12-6 to advance past Washington, New Jersey and Buffalo?
How many of you thought that by the end of the first round we would know that no matter what, the Stanley Cup Final is going to start in a Western Conference city because none of the teams left in the East finished the regular season with more points than fifth-seeded Detroit out West?
If you did, we'll let you take a bow, but we'll also make you take a polygraph test.
"We had a power play this year that after October was going close to 30 percent for the rest of the year, and we were 1-for-33 on the power play. I would have bet everything that that couldn't be done, and it was."
-- Washington coach Bruce Boudreau
The Flyers needed only five games to dispatch the Devils. Boston needed only six games to eliminate Ryan Miller
and the Sabres. And, most surprisingly of all, the Canadiens had to win three in a row to come back and beat the Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals in seven games. An eight-seed never had done that before.
How did this happen? There are several factors, but as always, goaltending is right at the top of the list.
, Jaroslav Halak
and Tuukka Rask
ran one, two and four, respectively, among the playoff leaders in save percentage in the first round. Boucher had the best goals-against average (1.59) while Rask was fourth (2.18).
Halak made the third-most saves (217), and he only played 5 1/2 games but made 131 saves on 134 shots in Games 5-7 to draw comparisons to Patrick Roy
. Boucher had 28 saves for a 3-0 shutout in the deciding Game 5 against the Devils.
"(Boucher) did what he had to do," Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner
said. "We tried to get traffic in front and put a lot of shots on him. We had opportunities in front and missed. He did a good job for them."
Goalies, they say, also are a team's best penalty killer, and these three were spectacular in that department, too. Buffalo didn't score a power-play goal on 19 opportunities; Washington went a dreadful 1-for-33; and New Jersey 4-for-32.
The Sabres, Caps and Devils finished the first round lumped in with Nashville in the bottom four on the power play. Washington had the League's best power play in the regular season at 25.2 percent, but was 3.2 percent against the Habs.
"We had a power play this year that after October was going close to 30 percent for the rest of the year, and we were 1-for-33 (against Montreal) on the power play," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau
said. "I would have bet everything that that couldn't be done, and it was."
You need unexpected heroes to pull off upsets at this time of year, too.
Montreal had Travis Moen
, Dominic Moore
, Hal Gill
and Josh Gorges
. The Flyers had Claude Giroux
, Daniel Carcillo
and Ian Laperriere
's courageous head. Boston had the ageless Mark Recchi
and the seemingly invincible Miroslav Satan
Moen scored a big goal in Game 5 to help the Habs stay alive. Moore wound up with the winner in Game 7 Wednesday. Gill and Gorges were the mainstays on Montreal's vaunted shorthanded unit, and they did their best to hold Alex Ovechkin
"I thought we had a good chance to win the Stanley Cup this year," Boudreau said, "and I would have bet my house on that they wouldn't have beaten us three games in a row and we would have scored only three goals on almost 140 shots."
Carcillo had the overtime winner in Game 3 and finished the series with a plus-4 rating. Giroux did most of his damage in Game 5, with 2 goals and an assist. He finished the first round with 4 goals, including 3 on the power play, and 2 assists. He was needed big-time in Game 5 because of the injuries to Jeff Carter
and Simon Gagne
"I remember back two months ago, we were talking and he wanted more responsibility," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette
said, "and we revisited that conversation (the morning of Game 5) with some veterans out of the lineup now. I thought he responded with a tremendous game in a big situation. He was a very good player for us."
Recchi, who is 42 years old and we're told on his the last legs of his career, tied for the team lead in points with 5 with Satan, who scored game-winning goals in Games 4 and 6.
Satan netted the double-overtime winner in Game 4 and beat Miller with 5:41 left in regulation to catapult the Bruins into the second round. Recchi had a goal and an assist in Game 6 before Satan's heroics.
"Definitely, this is fun after last year what I went through in going all the way," said Satan, who played just 17 games with the Penguins during last year's Stanley Cup run. "It's fun to be in the playoffs again. This team maybe missed out on a big opportunity last year, so we'll see what happens this year. I just want to enjoy it while we are here."
The Capitals, Devils and Sabres didn't help themselves much, either.
"It's fun to be in the playoffs again. This team maybe missed out on a big opportunity last year, so we'll see what happens this year. I just want to enjoy it while we are here." -- Miroslav Satan
Washington got nothing from Alexander Semin
or Tomas Fleischmann
, a duo that combined for 63 regular-season goals. Fleischmann was benched for Game 7. Mike Green
also didn't score a goal and picked up six minor penalties.
"You can take certain guys away; it's the secondary scoring that has to come," Boudreau said.
Buffalo was the only team in the first round that didn't score a power-play goal, but they gave up six goals on 22 times shorthanded. Derek Roy
, who had 26 goals in the regular season, was held off the board altogether by the Bruins.
"If you look at it, they scored 2 power-play goals (in Game 6) and we didn't get any," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff
said. "They definitely had the edge in the series and it made the difference. Our penalty kill had been good all year, but we ended up giving up (six) goals and it hurt us."
only scored 1 goal for the Devils, while Patrik Elias
and Langenbrunner had none. Ilya Kovalchuk
had 6 points, but an even rating.
The Devils also had the third-most penalty minutes per game of any team (18.4) and the third-fewest shots on goal per game of any team in the first round (27.0). Philadelphia averaged fewer shots than the Devils (25.2) but scored more than a goal per game more.
"It's embarrassing," Kovalchuk said. "They were missing a couple of guys, but were still able to do it. We did not deserve to win."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl